While editing our title The Railway Age by Cyril Bruyn Andrews I was rather puzzled by this illustration, taken from The Comic Bradshaw of 1848, as our author provides no context for the cartoon. I hunted down a copy of The Comic Bradshaw and discovered that the illustration relates to a section entitled ‘Remarkable Phenomenon in Second Class Carriages’. It reads as follows:
It is a curious fact in connexion with the wood used in the construction of second-class carriages, that the further you travel the harder, and tougher, the rougher, and knottier do the seats become. At first they seem smooth enough, - in fact handsome, polished planes. In about thirty miles, they get nutmeg-graterish on the surface; by fifty, lumps begin to grow out of them; by seventy, the lumps are sharper; and ere the hundred be completed, you would exchange your throne for an arm-chair full of broken bottles.
The following diagrams will give a notion of the odd phenomenon we have endeavoured to describe.
The portraits [above] show the changes, corresponding to the degree of discomfort of the seat, produced on the countenance of the gentleman who sits on it.
Several illustrations in The Railway Age are taken from The Comic Bradshaw but Mr Andrews has not included some of the most peculiar sections of this very odd little publication. For instance, there is the following strange prediction of events a hundred years hence (i.e. hence from 1848!):
OUR PROPHET AGAIN.
This invaluable gentleman has again been, in Campbell's phrase, sending his spirit, like one of the new street-cleaning machines, to
"- sweep adown the gulf of Time."
The following is one of the scraps which the mental broom in question has brushed up from the highway of posterity. It is an extract from the Times of the 1st of April, 1948
“Some surprise, and not a little uneasiness, was created yesterday, at the Mesopotamia Station of the United Grand Junction European, African, Asian, American, and Ponder's-end Railway, by the non-arrival of the slow train, due at twelve o’clock. Half-a-dozen policemen were, in consequence, dispatched up the line per the new patent passenger electric telegraph, and the cause of delay was ascertained to be as follows. It appears that the train was proceeding cautiously round a rather sharp curve, at a rate of not more than three hundred miles an hour, when the breathing apparatus of the driver - a steady man, who has been for some years in the Company's service - gave way, and he was, of course, immediately suffocated; - not, however, before he had managed to stop and reverse the engine. The injudicious effects of this last step were, however, soon apparent; for the train, as might have been expected, started backwards at rather a fast rate of 700 or 800 miles an hour - the passengers being in a state of considerable alarm. Fortunately, the accident was observed from one of the new line of patent safety balloons, which, in company with a couple of ordinary hack flying machines, gave chase, and having flung their grapnels at the speeding engine, managed gradually to stop its career. The unfortunate engine man was then attended to, and being promptly conveyed to the Galvanic and Electro-magnetic Hospital for the cure of complaints of the respiratory organs, he was skilfully unsuffocated by the house-surgeon; and after a short delay, was providentially enabled to resume his place upon the locomotive, and conduct the train to its destination. No blame attaches to any of the officials of the Company."
This extract is both amusing in its predictions of the world in 1948 and also interesting because it repeats (perhaps facetiously) the myth that circulated in the early days of train travel that travelling at speed would render people either unconscious or dead!
Our title The Railway Age also includes several engaging and amusing railway stories. There is, for example, the story of the fire at New Cross in 1841. While the fire itself was not funny, its cause was most peculiar:
The disastrous fire was made all the more thrilling as it broke out at the exact moment when Louis Philippe’s train was announced ready to take him to Dover. The King of the French had to walk over hose pipes and through a scene of great disturbance. The flames, only 100 feet from the railway carriage window from which the King watched them, were reflected in the helmets of the soldiers drawn up as a guard of honour, and the combined noise of those who were fighting the flames and those who were cheering the King was terrific. It was difficult at a moment when the King was arriving and departing to ascertain the cause of the fire, but it was afterwards found to be the spontaneous ignition of some vegetable stowed in a paint room.
Another example is the description of a terrified vicar:
One dark night in the year 1784, the venerable Vicar of Redruth, in Cornwall, was taking a quiet walk in a lonely lane leading to his church. Suddenly he heard an unearthly noise, and to his horror, he saw approaching him an indescribable creature of legs, arms, and wheels, whose body appeared to be glowing with internal fire, and whose rapid gasps for breath seemed to denote a fierce struggle for existence. The vicar’s cries for help brought to his assistance a gentleman of the name of Murdoch, who was able to assure him that this terrible apparition was not an incarnation, or a messenger of the Evil One, but only a runaway engine that had escaped from control.
The Railway Age is full of similar accounts of events, personal reactions, poetry, songs and other reflections on the early days of the railway. As such it provides a fascinating window on how everyday life and ordinary people were affected by the dramatic changes that came with the advent of rail travel. The book also includes over 150 illustrations from a variety of contemporary sources - images that bring the stories and descriptions to life.
The Comic Bradshaw includes a list of railway jokes that were venerable in 1848 and are therefore so old now that they have whiskers! Unlike rail travel itself, rail humour has not travelled well down the decades. Thus, I began with a joke about a sore behind and I end on some more sore points that will surely elicit a groan:
LIST OF THE PROCLAIMED JOKES.
Nobody is henceforth permitted to say
1. That an elderly gentleman connected with railroads is a Railway Buffer.
2. Nor, that a locomotive is like a policeman because it takes people up to the Station.
3. Nor, that a slow train followed by a quick one is like the letter W - because the X presses on behind.
4. Nor, that a partizan of the Great Western line is like a stout exciseman - because he is a broad-gauger.
5. Nor, that a man with a levelling instrument must be a great wag - for he can take a rise out of anything.
6. *Nor, that the wheels upon railways are lubricated with train oil.
*To encourage merit, anyone who laughs at this joke may apply for half-a-crown to the Publisher.
7. Nor, that railroads intended for the conveyance of luggage are therefore to be caned trunk lines.
8. Nor, that the boilers of express engines are supplied with brandy and water.
My favourite railway story comes from the days of the old ‘slam-door’ carriages and before carriage doors were centrally-locked. A bowler-hatted business man was fast asleep in a compartment filled with other passengers. The train stopped unexpectedly between stations. The business man woke up suddenly and, thinking the train was at his station, he leapt up, opened the door and fell on to the track. Obviously a bit disoriented he wandered up and down for a bit (just his bowler hat was visible to the other passengers through the window) and then, realising his supposed mistake, he scrambled back into the carriage, said ‘Silly Me!’, crossed the carriage, opened the opposite door and fell onto the track on the other side of the train.
What is your favourite railway joke or funny story? Do let us know (clean jokes and stories only please!).